MacBook Air SuperDrive Accessory Needs High-Power USB Port

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Users hoping to buy a MacBook Air USB Superdrive accessory for use with another Mac or PC other than the MacBook Air may be disappointed to find out that the accessory requires a MacBook Air to run.

Electronista explains that the requirement is due to the drive's higher power consumption.

While external optical drives have existed that rely on the USB port alone, the particular power demands of the Apple-made drive should prevent it being used elsewhere; the sole USB port has been boosted past its specifications to supply enough power to use the drive with just the data cable rather than a direct power connection, say contacts [familiar with the internal design of the system].
The drive does not include any way to connect it to AC power for use with standard USB ports found on other Macs and PCs. Indeed, Apple has listed the MacBook Air as the only compatible computer for use with the unit.

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KindredMAC

macrumors 6502a
Sep 23, 2003
971
203
At first thought, I was really hoping that Apple made the SuperDrive Air able to be used on all Macs until reality set it.... Why would anyone buy any one else's SuperDrives or a second internal if this worked with any USB 2.0 port?

Mac Pros would not see an additional internal be put in for the $99 price tag. Heck buy the external and use it for all of your Macs! But alas, Apple is much smarter than everyone else and the poor little SuperDrive Air is relegated to only one lover.....
 

samh004

macrumors 68020
Mar 1, 2004
2,216
89
Australia
But if you connected a powered-hub to your port and then plugged it into that, wouldn't it be able to draw enough power to run and be used, of course it wouldn't be convenient, but would it work ?
 

segfaultdotorg

macrumors 6502
Jan 25, 2007
295
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I suspected as much. The USB specification doesn't allow for enough power to supply a DVD burner, thus, to be able to burn DVDs (and not just CDs), they had to do something outside the specification.
 

longofest

Editor emeritus
Jul 10, 2003
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Falls Church, VA


High powered ports for devices.
That's not at all new. No mac has ever been able to support high-power devices when connected to a non-powered hub, like the keyboard hub.

However, I think I may have made the title misleading. The drive isn't just high-powered... it's ULTRA-high powered. It needs ABOVE specification power requirements over USB. So, even a fully-powered USB port won't due... it would have to exceed power specs.

Scotty... I need more power!

EDIT: changed title to "above-spec" from "high-power"
 

TBi

macrumors 68030
Jul 26, 2005
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You can buy a cable which plugs into two usb ports and goes to one mini usb for powering external 2.5" harddrives.

I'd guess you could modify/make one of these work work with the drive. Use one USB port just for power and the second for data.
 

tothelimit

macrumors regular
Jan 9, 2008
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South Florida
i imagine there would have to be someone out there with the ingenuity to develop a USB hub that can power it.
i'd give it a month of two before we see a handful of 3rd party manufacturers selling 'above-spec' USB converters - allowing use on all macs.

maybe not - i'm no hardware buff - might be a much more difficult task than it seems.
 

err404

macrumors 68030
Mar 4, 2007
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The have themselves in a tight spot here. They need more power to maintain drive performance and being that an external power supply is not a option, they only have two solutions:

One
Use a different plug to signify the non-compliance of the device. The would unfortunately require an additional port on the MBA and could affect the styling.

Two
Use an out-of-spec USB plug.

Obviously they went for option Two. This has the advantage of not requiring an additional port on the MBA that very few people would need. I don't have an issue with this, so long as the devices is clearly labeled as not being USB and not sold as a USB drive.
 

Eidorian

macrumors Penryn
Mar 23, 2005
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Indianapolis
The have themselves in a tight spot here. They need more power to maintain drive performance and being that an external power supply is not a option, they only have two solutions:

One
Use a different plug to signify the non-compliance of the device. The would unfortunately require an additional port on the MBA and could affect the styling.

Two
Use an out-of-spec USB plug.

Obviously they went for option Two. This has the advantage of not requiring an additional port on the MBA that very few people would need. I don't have an issue with this, so long as the devices is clearly labeled as not being USB and not sold as a USB drive.
I discussed both issues here.

Would you rather they require the Superdrive attachment and new keyboard to use AC power? I don't understand your gripe.
Apple is designing hardware to use their above-spec USB ports instead of using two USB cables. That's my gripe. One cable looks nice, looks.
 

bmarker

macrumors newbie
Jun 12, 2006
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It didn't bother me that the optical drive was external. I've had that before on ultra-portables and not really missed the drive most of the time. I wasn't all that worried about the MacBook Air only having one USB port because I typically use a USB hub anyway.

Now the drive requiring extra power from the USB port is a problem. Unless it also works as a hub that I can daisy-chain then that means the drive also prevents you from having any other USB devices connected at the same time. That I do take issue with.

I wouldn't be surprised to see a USB hub sold with MacBook Air type power (maybe not recognized by Apple) in the near future; probably sold for a premium and possibly with no actual change from a current product except for the label.
 

MacAddict1978

macrumors 65816
Jun 21, 2006
1,051
254
You have to consider that all the other macs include a drive.

I personally think the drive should have been included, and I suspect its pricing was built into the MBA's retail price. (Everyone who buys a MBA paid a cost for a device they don't get.) I'm sure lots of people will argue the logic in this, but to make a external drive for one model would be rather expensive. I think this kept sticker shock lower on the MBA. In other words, could see you apple charging less that $200 for this thing if it could be used in any other system?
 

Doctor Q

Administrator
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Sep 19, 2002
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This was a reasonable move by Apple, to favor the convenience of the MacBook Air user. They just need to make it clear what the facts are so nobody is misled or buys mismatched equipment. Perhaps calling the port something different would have helped.
 

johnnyjibbs

macrumors 68030
Sep 18, 2003
2,959
119
London, UK
The good news here is that the MacBook Air has an above-spec USB port. It can drive more power than traditional ports. This makes it more future-proof for power-hungry USB devices in the future (although makes a mess of the standard with a two-tier system).

Problem is, will they make it absolutely clear to consumers that it is only for the MBA? It should quite clearly state on the packaging. I'm worried, because in other areas they are not so unambiguous.

Take the iPod classic/5th generation iPods and the component and composite AV TV cables. One cable works with the pre-September iPods with video, the other only works with the new iPod classic/post-Touch iPods. My gripe here is that the boxes look almost identical - they were even intermingled on the same shelf hanger in the Apple Store for Pete's sake. Yet their compatibility is completely different. How is the average consumer supposed to know if their iPod is a 5th gen, 4th gen, 2nd gen, etc? Apple doesn't make it explicit.

Hopefully they will make it explicit here.
 

drbjames

macrumors newbie
Jan 9, 2007
5
0
This should hopefully mean you can use a unpowered USB hub with MacBook Air to connect multiple high power devices!

So its not completely bad news!
 

longofest

Editor emeritus
Jul 10, 2003
2,846
1,394
Falls Church, VA
Eidorian, I'm not sure you're getting that the iMac/keyboard combination is on par for the industry, and is not anything specific to Apple.

Try plugging any non-powered USB hub into a Mac Pro or a PC, and try running a device that requires a bunch of power (i.e. "high-power"), like a zip drive or optical drive that doesn't have an AC adapter, and see if it works. If it does, I guarantee you it won't support another device, such as an iPod...

This should hopefully mean you can use a unpowered USB hub with MacBook Air to connect multiple high power devices!

So its not completely bad news!
No, not necessarily. The power is split amongst the devices, so once you connect one out of spec device, you'd only have a fraction of the power left. Plus, unpowered hubs draw power themselves just by existing (overhead)
 

Eidorian

macrumors Penryn
Mar 23, 2005
29,085
290
Indianapolis
Eidorian, I'm not sure you're getting that the iMac/keyboard combination is on par for the industry, and is not anything specific to Apple.

Try plugging any non-powered USB hub into a Mac Pro or a PC, and try running a device that requires a bunch of power (i.e. "high-power"), like a zip drive or optical drive that doesn't have an AC adapter, and see if it works. If it does, I guarantee you it won't support another device, such as an iPod...
I only said that the above-spec powered ports are not USB standard ones.

[sarcasm]Way to to adhere to (power) USB standards Apple.[/sarcasm]

Any other company could do this as well instead of using some sort of dual USB cable system or AC adapter.
 

nagromme

macrumors G5
May 2, 2002
12,546
1,196
Apple is designing hardware to use their above-spec USB ports instead of using two USB cables. That's my gripe. One cable looks nice, looks.
It's not about looks. Using 2 ports takes up space (remember that the Air tapers--they didn't even fit Firewire), adds cable clutter to tote around, and does nothing to improve the intended purpose of the device. In fact, it would have harmed the simplicity and compactness that make the Air what it is.

Meanwhile the USB port on the Air is fully compatible with standard devices.

Sometimes you have to compromise. Using 2 cables would have been a different kind of compromise. I'm glad they chose this one.

Users of other models can choose other drives. And third-party ultra-powered or dual-cable adapters will emerge if demand is there. I'm thinking demand for external optical drives is low enough that Apple wasn't crazy to devote this product JUST to the Air. Like it or not, that's what they did--it's the Air's optical drive, not a general purpose peripheral. Doesn't seem so evil to me :)
 

ChrisA

macrumors G4
Jan 5, 2006
11,663
466
Redondo Beach, California
You can buy a cable which plugs into two usb ports and goes to one mini usb for powering external 2.5" harddrives.

I'd guess you could modify/make one of these work work with the drive. Use one USB port just for power and the second for data.
It would not work. The way USB works is that a device when you plug it it will send a request for a certain amount of power. It says something lke "I need 500 milliwatts" the hub can respond with a "yes" or a "no". The problem here is that the new DVD drive is asking for an amount of power that every USB port built today except one will send a "No". If is a software issue All ports are current programmed to say "no".

Typically the way this works is the hub will keep track of the power being used by all devices plugged in so if you split the USB cable it can't work because the total is still to large the the second plug in the Y-cable will get the "no" answer. OK possibly you can use two powered hubs and plug one part of the Y-cable into each hub. What a hassel, who'd do that. Better to simply buy a DVD that uses a power brick.

By convention if the device uses only some very, small amount of power it need not ask for more. A USB memory stick I doubt as to ask the hub for power. Likewise the DVD at first uses this method when you first plug it in so that it can run just enough to ask for more power.
 

blufire

macrumors regular
Jul 20, 2002
128
0
Problem is, will they make it absolutely clear to consumers that it is only for the MBA? It should quite clearly state on the packaging. I'm worried, because in other areas they are not so unambiguous.
Well it's called the "MacBook Air SuperDrive," and the description says it's "for the MacBook Air." The system requirements are pretty simple: "MacBook Air computer." Isn't that clear enough?
 
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